Cast: Ajay Devgun, Aishwarya Rai
Director: Rituparno Ghosh
Music Director: ——-
Synopsis: Fair if uninspiring adaptation of O. Henry’s “The Gift of Magi”
“The Gift of the Magi” is one of O. Henry’s most famous stories and contains many of the elements for which O. Henry is widely known, including poor, working-class characters, realistic detail, and a surprise ending. It is indeed a tale of enduring and unselfish love. Rituparno Ghosh bases his film on this short story and for those familiar with the story, will know that Raincoat has the sense of foreboding tragedy. In fact, Ghosh plays his film almost like theatre, a game of two lovers, toying with the present, tied by their past, set in a claustrophobic and darkened room. Yet, Ghosh’s film, whilst whipping up a rather dark and melancholic tale, ends up being a celebration of love, despite its inevitable conclusion.
Manoj (Ajay Devgan) is out of work mill worker, out of employment due a lock-out in his jute mill. Coming from a small village, he decides to go to Kolkatta to drum up some support from his friends to start a new business. However, Kolkatta also holds a further attraction for him… his village sweetheart Neeru (Aishwarya Rai) whom he had to forsake and who married another man after pressure from her family. Manoj arrives in Kolkatta where the rain pelts down, and Kolkatta is bathed in a depressing darkness, almost akin to the depression that Manoj feels within. Borrowing a raincoat from his friends, he makes his way to Neeru’s home.
The first vision of Neeru is through an opening in the door. Neeru has taken her time and seems surprised to see Manoj there. She invites him into the darkened home, no lights ostensibly because of the rain and littered with pieces of furniture around the room, almost like something from a Dickens novel. Neeru tells Manoj that the servants are off duty in the afternoon and she is on her own as her husband is travelling…in Japan.
Neeru seems to project a picture of comfort although the surroundings tell another story. Gradually the façade begins to slip and Manoj realises the utter desperation that faces Neeru, who still heroically holds on to her pride and surrenders nothing to him in terms of her own suffering. Manoj also keeps his woes hidden from her and both skirt around their devastated lives as if everything was normal. Clearly, the old love within them is still alive, but what with their truncated lives, how can it manifest itself?
Ghosh’s film follows the structure of European cinema and could easily pass as such. Raincoat is a simple love story, all taking place in the course of one long afternoon. It is the tale of unrequited romance and relies heavily on the two protagonists to keep the proceedings interesting. Whilst it follows a slow pace, the slow build up actually adds to the sombre mood of the film, broken momentarily by Annu Kapoor who brings about in Manoj, a realisation of the reality that is facing Neeru. Yet, at times, you wish that the moment did not linger as long as it does and you wish that a greater depth may be found from somewhere. The nearest comparison that I can think of was Mrinal sen’s Khandhar, a film very different from this, set in the ruins, a metaphor for two fractured lives of that film. Khandhar remains in memory a good 15 years or so after it was made whereas, you somehow feel something lacking in Raincoat. The intention is there but somehow, it ends up being a somewhat slight work.
As for the performances, Aishwarya Rai makes Neeru believable and yet, you wished that she could add something more to the character than she does. This is by no means a bad performance but it’s not what legends are made of. You may lament and think of what pathos and depth Tabu may have brought to the role. Ajay Devgan is controlled and impressive.
The music of the film, set to Gulzar’s lyrics, add to the melancholy of the film. Its not for those wanting classic bollywood stuff, but if you have the time and patience to see something different, this one certain makes a decent stab at that.